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(Cyprus, 11 January 2009) - Free Gaza’s ship, SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, will leave Larnaca Port at 12:00 noon, Monday, 12 January, on an emergency mission to besieged Gaza. It will carry desperately needed doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and members of several European parliaments plus medical supplies. This voyage marks Free Gaza’s second attempt to break the blockade since Israel began attacking the Gaza Strip. Between August-December 2008, Free Gaza successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first international ships in Gaza port since 1967.
Israeli military violently attacked an earlier attempt by Free Gaza to send an emergency boat with doctors and medical supplies to Gaza. On 30 December, Israel’s navy deliberately, repeatedly and without warning rammed the unarmed DIGNITY, causing significant structural damage, endangering the lives of passengers and crew. The ship found safe haven in Lebanon, and awaited repairs.
Fouad Ahidar, a Belgian parliamentarian sailing to Gaza aboard SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, responded to concerns that Israel may attack the unarmed mercy ship: "I have five children very worried about me, but I told them, you can sit on your sofa and watch these atrocities on TV, or you can choose to take action to make them stop."
Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have injured thousands of civilians and killed over 800 people, including hundreds of women and children. This ongoing massacre is a massive violatation of international humanitarian law, defined by the Geneva Conventions, especially obligations of an Occupying Power and requirements of laws in war. The United Nations has failed to protect the Palestinian civilian population from Israel's violations of IHL. Israel has closed off Gaza from the international community (today refusing to allow a European parliamentary delegation to enter via Rafah) and demanded that all foreigners leave.
Huwaida Arraf, a Free Gaza organizer, states, “We cannot just sit by and wait for Israel to decide to stop the killing and open the borders for relief workers to pick up the pieces. We are coming in. There is an urgent need for this mission as Palestinian civilians in Gaza are being terrorized and slaughtered by Israel, and access to humanitarian relief denied to them. When states and the international bodies responsible for taking action to stop such atrocities choose to be impotent, then we--the citizens of the world--must act. Our common humanity demands nothing less.”
Israel has been notified by fax that we are coming. A copy of our notification to Israeli Authorities is attached. The media is invited to Larnaca Port at 10:00am for final preparations and a press conference before departure. ###
Official Notification of Intent to Enter
January 11, 2009
To: The Israeli Ministry of Defense, Fax: 972-3-697-6717
To: The Israeli Navy, Fax: 03-737-6123 / 03-737-7175
To: The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fax 972-2-5303367
From: The Free Gaza Movement
This letter serves as a formal notification to you as the Occupying Power and belligerent force in the Gaza Strip that on Monday, January 12 we are navigating the motor vessel, Spirit of Humanity, from the Port of Larnaca to the port of Gaza City. Our vessel will be flying the Greek flag, and, as such, falls under the jurisdiction of Greece.
We will be sailing from Cypriot waters into international waters, then directly into the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip without entering or nearing Israeli territorial waters. We expect to arrive at Gaza Port on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.
We will be carrying urgently needed medical supplies in sealed boxes, cleared by customs at the Larnaca International Airport and the Port of Larnaca. There will be a total of 30 passengers and crew on board, among them members of various European Parliaments and several physicians. Our boat and cargo will also have received security clearance from the Port Authorities in Cyprus before we depart.
As it will be confirmed that neither we, the cargo, any of the boat's contents, nor the boat itself constitute any threat to the security of Israel or its armed forces, we do not expect any interference with our voyage by Israel's authorities.
On Tuesday, December 30, an Israeli Navy vessel violently, and without warning, attacked our motor vessel Dignity, disabling the vessel and endangering the lives of the 16 civilians on board. This notice serves as clear notification to you of our approach. Any attack on the motor vessel, Spirit of Humanity, will be premeditated, and any harm inflicted on the 30 civilians on board will be considered the result of a deliberate attack on unarmed civilians.
The Steering Committee of the Free Gaza Movement